ADL Analysis: Arafat Knew about Weapons Shipment
By Kenneth Jacobson
Senior Associate National Director
Any lingering doubts about the Palestinian Authority's role in armed attacks against Israelis were put to rest last week with the Israeli government's seizure
of a large shipment of weapons destined for terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
These weapons could have turned this so-called uprising into a full-scale military assault against Israel, which says a lot about a leader who at the same time was assuring the U.S. that he was doing all he could to end the terror.
The Israeli intelligence that led to the seizure of the ship Karine A and its cargo of more than 50 tons of weaponry and ordnance exposed the true face of Palestinian terror
and its direct links to Yasir Arafat, who clearly had knowledge of the large-scale smuggling operation.
The Karine A - a ship laden with rocket launchers, anti-tank grenades, mortars, powerful C-4 explosives and armor piercing assault rifles - was midway through its carefully planned mission of subterfuge when it was overtaken by Israeli commandos in the Red Sea.
This was hardly a fly-by-night operation carried out by rogue terrorists. The Iranian-made military-grade weapons had been loaded offshore to avoid detection. The ship's crew had orders to place the weapons in watertight containers that could be tethered and retrieved from the Mediterranean by boat couriers, who would deliver the weapons to Palestinian extremists in Gaza. The captain of the Karine A, a Palestinian naval officer in command of a Palestinian Authority-owned vessel, was in radio contact with a high-ranking official in the PA police. This was a carefully executed, well-financed operation that could not have been possible without the backing and knowledge of Palestinian leaders.
The seizure of the Karine A raises crucial questions about the true face of Palestinian leadership, about sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East, and about the long-term approach for the United States in seeking a resolution to the conflict.
Arafat Must Be Held Accountable
The Karine A debacle shows that the violence against Israel is anything but a "popular uprising" by Palestinians disaffected with the peace process. Rather, it is an orchestrated campaign of terror largely directed by Palestinian Authority leadership.
There is mounting evidence that, despite his repeated denials, Arafat had firsthand knowledge of the ship and its deadly cargo. Arafat's lame attempts to explain away the incident - first by insinuating that Israel had "made up" the ship's story, and later by claiming that the operation was too sophisticated for the PA to have planned - rang hollow. In interviews following his arrest, the ship's captain admitted that he was on a mission for the PA. Indeed, he said he had expected the operation to be called off after Dec. 16, the day Arafat gave a speech calling for an end to armed attacks against Israelis. Instead, Palestinian leaders within Arafat's own Fatah faction gave the ship's captain the go-ahead. This exposes Arafat's direct role in international weapons smuggling.
The ship's discovery came after assurances by Arafat that he was making every reasonable effort to halt terrorism against Israel. Under increasing pressure from the U.S. and Israel, Arafat had taken preliminary steps in arresting militants and calling for calm.
The arms cache demonstrates, however, that it is no longer enough even to talk of a few days of quiet. It demands that there be mechanisms in place to force the Palestinians to make real efforts at change. Once again, it is clear that even when Arafat takes action to stop the violence, he also is doing much more to set the stage for future attacks against Israel. In short: Arafat's word is meaningless.
Iran Continues To Sponsor Terror
The Karine A was stocked with weapons from Iran. This negates the notion that the Iranian government has become more responsible with the emergence of moderate leadership. The recent arrests of moderates by hard-line Islamic fundamentalists, which have been largely dismissed in the West as resistance from the old guard, have new symbolism and urgency in light of the Karine A incident. Iran continues to facilitate and encourage terrorism against Israel.
While Iran has elected a moderate president and has seen some reforms within its society, there is now no doubt that the Iranian government continues to play a prominent role in the Mideast terror apparatus. Iran has sponsored international terrorism, developed weapons of mass destruction, and shown continual hostility toward the State of Israel. In March 2000, the U.S. decided to lift several trade sanctions against Iran. It was a good-faith effort on the part of the Clinton Administration to give the moderates in Iranian leadership the benefit of the doubt. In light of the Karine A incident, a more realistic view of Iran may be in order.
The U.S.-Israel Partnership Against Terror
As Israeli Naval commandos were preparing to take control of the Karine A, U.S. intelligence was tracking the ship from Yemen to Iran and back toward the Palestinians. Both nations were involved in coordinated counterterror operations that led to the retrieval of a massive cache of arms.
Israel stands alone as the only nation in the Middle East that has consistently championed counterterrorism and security measures in the region. The U.S. continues to recognize the importance of sharing intelligence and working cooperatively with the Israeli military and defense establishment to ensure stability and security.
The U.S.-Israel partnership remains crucial to maintaining that stability. In the aftermath of September 11, there were those who suggested that Israel and the U.S. could not work together because of the need to maintain an Islamic alliance in the war against terrorism. The Karine A incident clearly demonstrates the continuing importance of a strong U.S. - Israel alliance against terrorism.
Within days of the ship's discovery, U.S. officials were outspoken about the need for an explanation from Palestinian leaders. The U.S., which at first suggested that the weapons might have been bound for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, now says it was clear that the weapons were headed for Gaza. President George W. Bush has expressed his own suspicions about the shipment, and Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Arafat to make a thorough accounting of Palestinian involvement.
Meanwhile, a delegation of six congressional leaders cancelled a meeting with Arafat, citing an intelligence briefing that affirmed Arafat had personal knowledge of the arms shipment. U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman told the New York Times that the intelligence gave "100 percent certainty that Arafat was personally involved in the ordering of the procurement of the ship and the weapons, 100 percent certainty that it was intended for the Palestinian Authority."
The Myth of Israeli Aggression
The fact that the ship was intercepted by the Israeli military without a single shot being fired once again sheds light on the false assumption that Israeli soldiers do not exercise military restraint. In fact, the episode is representative of Israel's military tradition not to cause unnecessary casualties in pursuing military and security goals.
One aim of the intifada was to reverse this image and to portray the Palestinians as "victims" of Israeli aggression. The incident dashes the myth and shows the intifada for what it is - an orchestrated effort to restore the image of Palestinians as "victims" of Israeli aggression and "racism."
The provocations against Israel were intended to have the direct result of Palestinian casualties, particularly children. Arafat put his people on the front lines in a bid for international sympathy after rejecting one of the farthest-reaching proposals in the history of the peace process.
The Karine A was bringing in reinforcements to escalate the intifada. The impact of those weapons could have turned this so-called uprising into a full-scale military assault against Israel, which says a lot about a leader who at the same time was assuring the U.S. that he was doing all he could to end the terror.
Without a shadow of doubt remaining, Arafat will have a lot of explaining to do in the weeks ahead.
Kenneth Jacobson, an expert in Middle Eastern and International Affairs, is Senior Associate National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.